Agencies say FCC should deny request for underwater cable between Hong Kong and US

A group of federal agencies has recommended the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) deny a request by a Chinese government-linked company to directly connect the U.S. and Hong Kong through an underwater communications cable.

The agencies — known as Team Telecom and made up of the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense — said the FCC should deny a request made by the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) to connect Hong Kong and U.S., citing concerns that the cable would enable the Chinese government to access American data.

According to the Justice Department, one of the main investors in PLCN is the Pacific Light Data Company, a subsidiary of the fourth largest telecommunications provider in China.

The agencies cited concerns around cyber vulnerabilities to underwater sea cables that could make them easy to exploit.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement that the recommendation to the FCC showed the U.S. is “committed to securing our critical infrastructure, which is essential to our national security.”

“To maintain the security and prosperity of our digital economy, it is vital to ensure that undersea communications cables are secure,” Wolf said. “Routing undersea cables through Hong Kong would provide the People’s Republic of China with a strategic opportunity to collect the private information of our citizens and sensitive commercial data. Hong Kong is subject to intrusive Chinese government laws that put the demands of information by the Chinese Communist Party ahead of the privacy of U.S. consumers.”

U.S. officials have long been concerned about allowing Chinese telecom companies access to American networks, pointing to a 2017 intelligence law that requires Chinese companies and citizens to disclose data to Beijing if requested.

The Justice Department cited the Chinese intelligence law in opposing the cable between Hong Kong and the U.S., saying it should instead skip over the city due to mainland China’s control over Hong Kong.

Team Telecom did, however, give the green light to PLCN’s application to connect Taiwan, the Philippines, and the U.S., pointing to those portions of the project being controlled by subsidiaries of Google and Facebook.

The recommendation to block the underwater cable came the same week the Commerce Department announced a rule allowing U.S. companies to work with Chinese telecom group Huawei to set 5G standards.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said during an appearance Wednesday on Fox Business Network that the rule was not meant to “help” Huawei but to ensure that worldwide 5G standards are “symmetrical.”

The Commerce Department added Huawei to its “entity list” last year, effectively blacklisting it, and the agency took steps last month to limit the company’s access to chips needed for its devices.

Tags Chad Wolf Defense Department DHS FCC Justice Department National security Telecommunications Wilbur Ross

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